Star Trek: Into Darkness (Paramount Pictures, PG-13)

film star-trek-darkness_smThe action doesn’t serve the story—but to be fair, the story doesn’t serve the action, either.

 

film star-trek-darkness 

A note about spoilers: There is at least one twist in this movie. I find it hard to believe anyone out there doesn’t already know what this twist is, but the filmmakers seem hell-bent on keeping it a secret, so I will not give it away. There is a much bigger, more important spoiler which they actually have kept to themselves, so I won’t even refer to that one, even though it is the only part of the movie worth discussing in depth. Anyway…

There were a couple years as a pre-teen when I was really into Star Trek. My teen years were not kind to the series, however, and I quickly lost all interest. Then, in 2009, J.J. Abrams’ reboot of Star Trek was released, and I loved it. I know some Trekkies who hated the film, but it reminded me of everything I had loved about the series, and actually brought me back to Trek. I revisited all of the movies, and some of the show, although I was always more into the cinematic universe anyway. In short, it made me a fan again.

Unfortunately, going back to old Trek shined a light on failings in the reboot. Star Trek 09 is a very flawed movie, with a story that falls apart pretty quickly when you think back on it. But, after watching it again, I found that the movie actually holds up. It’s made with enough style and energy that you really don’t think about the problems. The cast is fantastic (I’ve always liked Trek for the characters more than the stories), the tone is a good mixture of humor and intensity, and, most importantly, it feels fresh. I had enough fun watching the crew put together in that movie, that I was eager to see them off on an actual adventure in Star Trek: Into Darkness.

What is that adventure? I can’t really tell you. The crew of the Enterprise is basically sent after a terrorist who is hiding out on the Klingon home world. They capture him and put him in a glass case. Do you think maybe he has some devious plan and maybe even wanted to be captured all along? Maybe he has a daring escape? This plot needs to be put on ice for at least a decade. It was great in The Dark Knight, and even great in Sherlock (which stars Benedict Cumberbatch, the actor who plays the villain here). It was less great in Iron Man 2, The Avengers, and Skyfall. I’m drawing a line in the sand. This ends now.

I’m a fan of J.J. Abrams and his style, but he’s gotten out of control here. Don’t get me wrong—this movie looks great. But I think he’s let his worst impulses get the best of him. The pace of this movie is insane. It’s like a runaway freight train zooming from one action set piece to the next. It reminded me of Quantum of Solace, a movie with much more action than its predecessor, but much less satisfying action. The action doesn’t serve the story—but to be fair, the story doesn’t serve the action, either.

Abrams has said multiple times that he is not a Star Trek fan, and this movie seems to reflect that even more than the last one. However, there are weird pieces of fan service thrown in in ways that make no sense. The movie opens with a footchase/debate about the prime directive, never taking the time to explain what that is or why it exists. We are introduced to Carol Marcus. (If you don’t know who Carol Marcus is, you still won’t at the end of this movie.) There’s even an appearance by a tribble. If you have no idea what a tribble is, you will probably have even less of an idea once you’ve seen this movie. As someone who knows what these things are, I found them distracting, but I would think even if I didn’t know anything about Star Trek, these elements would stick out as weird, underdeveloped plot points that have no place in this mess of a story.

I realize that this review is all over the place, so let me break it down for you. The first act of this movie is bad. Not terrible, but very clearly bad. Then it starts to pick up for a bit. The middle section is mostly the crew out on their mission. I still like this cast, and they play well off each other. Cumberbatch is also his usual fantastic self, but like Eric Bana before him, he is a villain with very little to do. I’ll also give a shout out to Peter Weller who I always like, possibly because Robocop is one of my favorite movies ever.

Then…I don’t even know. If you’ve seen the trailer, you will have seen two separate scenes of characters jumping from very high altitudes. I guess that’s appropriate, because in the last 20 minutes, the movie itself completely jumps off a cliff. It kills me that I can’t tell you what a complete disaster this movie becomes in its climactic moments. I can’t imagine this ending not being irritatingly stupid to anyone, even someone who has never seen a Star Trek movie. If you have seen a Star Trek movie before, this ending transcends irritatingly stupid and enters the realm of hideous blasphemy. I’m still reeling from just how horrible it is.

Star Trek: Into Darkness is the third big release of the summer; the first two were Iron Man 3 and The Great Gatsby, both of which took established properties and did something new and brave and unexpected with them. One worked much better than the other, but at least they felt fresh. Into Darkness doesn’t have a fresh idea in its head. It’s a poorly cobbled–together collection of things that have been done before, and done better. 

It really reminded me of Star Trek: Nemesis. It’s a bad action movie which obnoxiously steals from…well, you know what it steals from. That movie killed the franchise. I don’t think this one is unsalvageable. They could make a Skyfall, or even an Iron Man 3, which comes back and reminds us why we liked this series in the first place. But for now, I think it’s dead, Jim. | Sean Lass

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